Cheney in the Limelight: Is Former VP Breaking Tradition?

Cheney is not the first former VP to denounce a new administration's policies.

May 12, 2009, 7:25 AM

May 12, 2009— -- The vice president who seemed to spend most of his eight years in office in an undisclosed location, now seems to be everywhere, giving interview after interview criticizing the Obama administration's counterterrorism policies and defending the Bush administration's record.

The media blitz has much of Washington lamenting that Dick Cheney has broken a long tradition of vice presidents who quietly walk off to obscurity after leaving office. As one cable news commentator put it, "Not in modern times have we ever seen anything like this."

Nonsense. The big contrast is not between Cheney and his predecessors but between Cheney and former top Bush administration officials who have quietly watched the Obama administration dismantle many of their policies. The silence of other former Bush administration officials, including Bush himself, goes a long way to explaining why the once camera-shy vice president has become such a visible former vice president.

Long-time Cheney friend and former Sen. Alan Simpson said one factor behind Cheney's new outspokenness is that he is no longer constrained by the White House press office. "As vice president," Simpson said, "you can't speak without clearing everything. You are muzzled."

But is Cheney breaking a long tradition of former vice president's who fade away into self-imposed silence? Consider his immediate predecessor, Al Gore. After losing the recount in the 2000 presidential election, Gore famously grew a beard, added a few pounds and stayed out of the limelight for a while. But his low profile didn't last long.

During President Bush's second year in office, Gore emerged as the most forceful Democratic critic of the buildup to war in Iraq. In September 2002, a month before Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama spoke out against the war, Gore delivered a blistering speech against the resolution that authorized the war against Iraq.

Gore's criticism of Bush came a little later than Cheney's criticism of Obama, but it was no less severe.

Gore's September 2002 speech accused Bush of playing politics with national security and declared that Bush had "squandered" the goodwill the rest of the world felt toward the United States just as he had squandered the budget surpluses left by the Clinton administration.

And Gore wasn't unusual either. No recent vice presidents have been shy about criticizing presidents of the opposing party.

Former Vice President Dan Quayle did it in a book shortly after leaving office. And former Vice President Walter Mondale toured the country in the 1980s denouncing Reaganomics as "radical" and "wrong." Mondale not only criticized Reagan, he tried to defeat him, running for president in 1984.

Is Cheney Really Different?

If Cheney is perceived as different from his predecessors, it is because of the contrast between his low profile in office and his high profile after leaving, and, of course, because he has no intention of running for office.

"He'd love to just go fishing and spend time with the grandkids," his daughter Liz Cheney told ABC News. "But he feels an obligation to defend these policies and to get the truth out."

Cheney's confidants said he is speaking out in large part because other top Bush administration national security officials have been silent while the Obama administration has dismantled the pillars of the Bush anti-terror policies, especially the CIA's so-called enhanced interrogation program.

As the debate over those policies has gone forward, the key players who put the policies in place have sat on the sidelines. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for example, has been so quiet that when a student at Stanford University finally got a few questions to her last week, captured on a little digital video recorder, it became a YouTube sensation.

As a former Cheney aide puts it, "It drives him nuts that nobody is out there defending these policies."

Cheney's thinly veiled frustration over the silence of his former Bush administration colleagues comes through in a recent interview with the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes.

"I went through the Iran-contra hearings and watched the way administration officials ran for cover and left the little guys out to dry," Cheney told Hayes. "And I was bound and determined that wasn't going to happen this time."

Cheney makes it clear he's not returning to his undisclosed location anytime soon.

"I'll do my damndest to defend anybody out there -- be they in the agency carrying out the orders or the lawyers who wrote the opinions," Cheney said. "I don't know whether anybody else will, but I sure as hell will."

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